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Hdb Env Chem Vol. 5, Part H (2006): 149173 DOI 10.

1007/698_5_025 Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2005 Published online: 25 October 2005

The Nile Estuary

Waleed Hamza1,2
1 Biology

Department, Faculty of Science, United Arab Emirates University, P.O. Box 17551, Al-Ain, UAE w.hamza@uaeu.ac.ae Science Department, Faculty of Science, Alexandria University, 21511 Alexandria, Egypt w.hamza@uaeu.ac.ae Nile Estuary Development . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The River Nile . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Nile Branches from Ancient to Modern Times . . . . . . . Rosetta Promontory . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Damietta Promontory . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Climate, Geography, and Morphometry of the Nile Estuary Demographic Development and Nile Discharging Measures . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 150 150 152 152 154 156 158 160 162 163 164 164 167 172

2 Environmental

1 1.1 1.2 1.2.1 1.2.2 1.3 1.4 2 2.1 2.2 3 3.1 3.2

Hydrology and Hydrochemical Parameters of the Nile Estuary . . . . . . . Pollution Sources and its Inuence on the Nile Estuary . . . . . . . . . . . Nile Delta Lakes as Part of the Nile Estuary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Impact of Aswan High Dam Construction on the Nile Estuary . . . . . . . Coastal and Fisheries Reduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Simulation of the Nile Delta Coastal Ecosystem . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Abstract The River Nile, the most famous river of the ancient world, is the dominant geographic feature of northeastern Africa and the longest river on Earth. At the point of discharge of the Nile into the Mediterranean, the great Nile delta has formed and furnishes the most fertile area for cultivation in the Egyptian territory. The delta is embraced by two large branches of the Nile (the Rosetta and Damietta branches and their promontories), as the northward owing river bifurcates near the city of Cairo. Both the Rosetta and Damietta branches discharge freshwater directly and indirectly into the Mediterranean Sea to form the Nile estuary (also known as the Nile delta coastal area). Fluctuations in both quantity and quality of the Nile water reaching the Mediterranean, especially as a result of the Aswan High Dam (AHD) construction in 1965, have profoundly inuenced the morphometry and hydrology of the Nile, and the ecological characteristics of the river and the surrounding marine environment. This chapter intends to highlight the range of characteristics of the Nile estuary and the main factors inuencing them since the AHD construction. To this effect, the geography, hydrology, and ecology of this river-delta-estuary-coastal marine system will be described and illustrated, and recent numerical simulations of its hydrodynamics and ecosystem features will be discussed. The concluding remarks forecast future trends in the development of the Nile estuary and its vital role in the ecology of the Mediterranean Sea.


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Keywords Egyptian coast ecosystem Estuary Hydrochemistry Mediterranean Sea River Nile Abbreviations AHD Aswan High Dam MFSPP Mediterranean Forecasting System Pilot Project FinEst FinnishEstonian PAR Photosynthetic Available Radiation CE Christian Era

1 Nile Estuary Development

The Nile estuary is the classical example of a transitional environment between the river and the sea. The geographical position and morphometric features of this estuary are inuenced by several factors, with the most important being climatic variations, the impact of human activities, and sea hydrodynamics. The annual discharging capacity of a river into an estuarine environment is related not only to the rainfall density in the river catchment area, but also to natural and articial barriers to river ow encountered between the river source and its point of discharge. In the following text, the factors determining the historical development and modern characteristics of the Nile estuary environment are reviewed and extended to include certain features of the River Nile itself. In this regard, it is appropriate to begin this chapter with a brief introduction to the Nile, making special reference to those parameters that have the greatest inuence upon the Nile estuarine environment. 1.1 The River Nile Winding more than 6000 km from source to outfall, the Nile is the longest river in the world. However, it is not only in its length that the Nile is distinguished amongst its great rivals. No other river traverses such a variety of landscapes, such a medley of cultures, and spectrum of peoples, as does the Nile. None has had such a profound historical and material effect upon those who dwell along its banks, prescribing plenty or famine the difference between life and death for multitudes since the beginning of mans history. The Nile basin extends from latitudes 4 S to 31 N and encompasses parts of Burundi, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (Fig. 1). The Nile River is sourced in Lake Victoria in east Central Africa. It ows generally northwards

The Nile Estuary


Fig. 1 Nile River trajectory from source to outfall

through Uganda, Sudan, and Egypt to reach the Mediterranean Sea. From its remotest head stream, the Luvironza River in Burundi, the river is 6671 km long, and its basin has an area of more than 2 590 000 km2 [1]. The Nile ows from highland regions, with abundant moisture, to lowland plains with semiarid to arid conditions. Not only does the Nile provide


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Fig. 2 Main discharging branches of the Nile River to the Mediterranean Sea

freshwater to millions, but within its basin there are ve major lakes (Victoria, Edward, Albert, Kyoga, and Tana), vast areas of permanent wetland and seasonal ooding (The Sudd, Bahr al-Ghazal, and Macharmorches), and ve major reservoir dams (from north to south: the Aswan High Dam, Roseires, Khashm El-Gibra, Sennar, and Jabel Aulia). Before the construction of the Aswan High Dam (AHD), the Nile annually delivered black mud to the Nile delta, making it fertile. Egypt is the most downstream country of the Nile, with the last 1530 km of river length lying within Egyptian territory. At the city of Cairo (200 km from the Mediterranean coast), the River Nile bifurcates into two branches enclosing the delta region between them. These are the Rosetta (the western) branch and the Damietta (the eastern) branch that discharge Nile water into the Mediterranean through the Nile estuary (Fig. 2). 1.2 Nile Branches from Ancient to Modern Times The Rosetta and Damietta branches of the Nile are similar in some respects but distinct in others. They differ in their discharging capacities of both water and sediments (throughout their history, both before and after the construction of the AHD) and in their geomorphology a consequence of the variability of coastal and beach processes. 1.2.1 Rosetta Promontory The Rosetta promontory began to develop sometime between 5001000 CE when river water from earlier branches was naturally diverted and/or articially redirected into an existing canal known afterwards as Rosetta [2].

The Nile Estuary


Fig. 3 Historical advance and retreat of the Rosetta promontory (modied from Fanos et al. [3])

The conguration of the shoreline has changed markedly during the past ve centuries (15001998). The eastern and western shores of the promontory prograded seawards at an average rate of about 25 m year1 during the period 15001900, though they retreated at variable rates during the period 19001998 [3]. The detailed history of advance and retreat of the Rosetta promontory is represented in Fig. 3. The gradual reduction of the promontory length was halted after protective measures were taken on both sides. However, wave erosion of the coastal areas on the western and eastern sides of the protective works has ensued (Fig. 4), and the rate of this erosion has reached 80100 m year1 [3, 4]. At present the Rosetta promontory extends for about 220 km (from Cairo to its discharging point) with an average width of 180 m and with a water depth of 24 m depending on the discharging strength. It covers an area of about 40 km2 , giving an estimated volume of 45 106 m3 of sediment [5].


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Fig. 4 Erosion and accretion features of the Rosetta promontory and the protective measures (modied from Frihy [4])

1.2.2 Damietta Promontory The Damietta promontory was formed by the accumulation of sediments transported along the Damietta branch during the Holocene transgression [6]. It continues for 60 km west of Port Said at the entrance to the Suez Canal. During the period 18001998 the shoreline changes for this promontory were similar to those of the Rosetta. The promontory shoreline gradually advanced until 1895, and since then it has been retreating. The western side of the promontory advanced at a rate of 10 m year1 between 1800 and 1895. Between 1895 and 1940 it retreated at an average rate of 35 m year1 . On its eastern side the rate of advance of the shoreline between 1800 and 1912

The Nile Estuary


Fig. 5 Historical advance and retreat of the Damietta promontory (modied from Fanos et al. [3])

Fig. 6 Erosion features of the Damietta promontory and the protective measures (modied from Frihy et al. [6])


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was about 20 m year1 (Fig. 5). Between 1912 and 1973 the rate of retreat for the Damietta promontory shoreline was about 40 m year1 , increasing to 100 m year1 in the period between 1973 and 1995 [3]. Surveys of the progressive shoreline changes of the promontory between 1922 and 1995 have shown how the beaches have been affected by shoreline erosion (Fig. 6). It is estimated that 9.7 km2 year1 of coastal area has been lost, as the shoreline has retreated at a rate of 0.044 km year1 . This erosion is compensated along the ank of the promontory by the shoreline advancing at an average 0.008 km year1 and coastal area increasing by 13.3 km2 year1 [6]. 1.3 Climate, Geography, and Morphometry of the Nile Estuary Egypt is the most downstream country traversed by the Nile River, and is well known for its arid climate. In Egypt the precipitation along the Mediterranean coastal strip (Nile estuary) is 200 mm year1 , but declines dramatically inland, e.g., to 20 mm year1 near Cairo, 200 km from the northern coast. Farther inland, in Middle and Upper Egypt, rainfall is effectively zero. The semiarid climatic conditions of the northern African strip inevitably lead to heavy reliance on surface water resources. The Nile is thus the main source of freshwater in Egypt, and Egypts agriculture is dependent on irrigation using Nile water released annually from the AHD [7]. It is not easy to quote precisely geographic coordinates for the Nile estuary. This is mainly due to the temporal displacements of its two branches and the annual variations in discharge into the Mediterranean since time immemorial. However, approximate eastern and western boundaries of the present day Nile estuary may be placed at longitudes 30 E and 33 E, with the northern and southern extremities at latitudes 31 N and 32 N, respectively. The discharging outlets of the Nile delta coastal lagoons and the sediment-laden freshwater of the Nile debouching into the Mediterranean Sea also lie within these boundaries (Fig. 7). In their study of the Nile delta sediments in the Mediterranean, Bellaiche et al. [8] indicated that the leading tip of the Nile deep-sea sediment fan is located near 32 23 N/28 22 E. The authors did not report any recent sediments at that distal point, however, they demonstrated that deep-sea turbidities of mixed origin (Egyptian and Levantine), ll the sedimentary basin located south of Cyprus. The Nile estuary, also known as the Nile delta coastal area, occupies the central part of the Egyptian northern coastal zone bordering the Mediterranean Sea. The Nile delta coast from Abu Quir bay to Port Said is arcuate (Fig. 3), and has a beach and contiguous coastal at backed by coastal dunes or wide lagoons. The two main Nile promontories at Rosetta and Damietta interrupt the sandy shore line of the delta. The nearshore area is a hydrologically active zone characterized by a gentle slope varying from 1 : 50 to 1 : 100,

The Nile Estuary


Fig. 7 Ancient and recent geographical boundaries of both the direct and indirect discharging outlets of the Nile delta

and a dissipative wide beach [4, 9]. On account of the high economic, ecological, aesthetic, and recreational importance of this zone, there are increasing levels of environmental stress from both natural (erosion, dune quarrying, and subsidence and rising water levels) and anthropogenic inuences (population growth and increasing development) [10]. The coastal zone of the Nile delta is undergoing major contemporary changes due to the natural and anthropogenic activities noted above. Along the Nile delta coast natural inuences include tectonic activity, climatic and sea level uctuations, and uvial and marine processes. The anthropogenic factors include the construction of Nile barrages, the AHD, networks of irrigation and drainage canals, and protective works. Erosion has impacted on the agricultural and urban lands along the delta promontories of the Nile delta coast. Sediments accumulate within embayments and saddles between the Rosetta and Damietta promontories. A number of coastal protection structures such as jetties, groins, seawalls, and wave breaks have been built to combat beach erosion and to reduce shoaling [4]. Despite the high energy of the hydrologic and hydrodynamic processes of the Nile delta coast, it remains the shallowest part of the Egyptian Mediterranean shelf area. It has been mentioned that the hydrological processes along the Egyptian coastal area are mainly controlled by climatic factors (mainly wind and air temperature) and by the ambient currents in the southern Mediterranean [11]. The bathymetric map of the Egyptian shelf (Fig. 8) indicates a maximum depth of 300 m at latitude 32 N in the distal end of Nile delta [12].


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Fig. 8 Bathymetric conguration of the Egyptian Mediterranean shelf facing the Nile estuary (after Hamza [12])

1.4 Demographic Development and Nile Discharging Measures The combined population of Nile basin countries is close to 300 million, with about half of this population being dependent on the Nile water [13]. Egypt has a total population of more than 67 million, representing about 22% of all Nile basin inhabitants, though this population is unequally distributed throughout the country. Egypt is divided into four geographic regions: the Nile valley and delta, the Western Desert, the Eastern Desert, and Sinai. The physiography and aridity of the deserts bordering the Nile valley and delta constitute a barrier obstructing the full utilization of Egyptian land. About 99% of the Egyptian population is concentrated within 5.5% of the area of the Nile valley and delta region [4]. About 50% of the Egyptian population is concentrated in the delta and coastal governorates, excluding the capital, Cairo, which accounts for more than 20% of the national population, and supports up to 25 000 person km2 . The point of entry of the Nile into Egypt is the southern part of Lake Nasser, at Wadi Halfa, south of Aswan (Fig. 1). From Aswan, the river is a meandering channel as far as 20 km north of Cairo. At that location the river bifurcates into two main branches, each of which meanders separately over the delta to the sea. On the Nile ood plain, extensive articial drainage systems exist, especially in the traditionally cultivated land. These drainage systems discharge into one or another of the Nile branches or into the Northern delta lakes and the Mediterranean Sea. The Nile provides Egypt with about 95% of its annual water requirements. According to historical records the average annual discharge of the Nile between 1899 and 1959 was estimated as 84 km3 year1 (84 109 m3 year1 ). Record discharges during 1916 (120 km3 year1 ) and 1984 (420 km3 year1 )

The Nile Estuary


demonstrate the dramatic uctuations of the Nile ow. The agreement signed between Egypt and Sudan in 1959 endows Egypt with exclusive access to 55.5 km3 year1 of Nile ood water, to be withdrawn from Lake Nasser (The Aswan High Dam Reservoir). With increasing population in Egypt, the per capita share of Nile water has decreased from 2561 m3 year1 in 1955 to 1123 m3 year1 in 1990, and then to 680 m3 year1 in 2000. As the population continues to grow it is expected that this per capita share will decline further to 500 m3 year1 in 2025 [15]. Approximately 85% of Egypts water resources are committed to the irrigation of the 3.4 106 ha of cultivated land. Egypt is the only country in the Nile basin that has signicant industrialization. Since Egypt is the last country that the Nile passes through en route to the Mediterranean, this industrialization has no effect on the quality of the river water in the other Nile basin countries [16]. The main industries in Egypt are food processing, textile and other manufacturing, pulp and paper, cement production, fertilizer production, and heavy industries such as steel, machinery and chemicals. Most of the industrial activity is concentrated along the River Nile and its main branches in the areas surrounding Cairo and Alexandria. The majority of these industries discharge any wastewater directly, without treatment, into the Nile river and therefore into the waterways that feed the Nile estuary, the coastal lakes, and nally the Mediterranean sea [17]. Due to the limited surface water resources in Egypt and the fast pace of growth in both agriculture and industrialization, and rapid population growth, the volume of Nile water received by the Mediterranean has diminished drastically. The summer of 1964 saw the last normal discharge of Nile ood water into the Mediterranean. The average total annual Nile ow for the 5 years prior to this event (i.e., 19591963), amounted to 42.9 km3 of freshwater delivered to the Nile estuary [18]. After 1964 the discharge de-

Fig. 9 Strategic balance model of the Egyptian surface freshwater for the year 2017 (modied from El-Arabawy [7])


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creased to about 18 and 21 km3 in the years 1982 and 1984, respectively. This quantity was discharged exclusively from the Rosetta Nile branch, as the Damietta branch remained closed at that time. The surplus of Nile freshwater reaching the Mediterranean annually amounts to 2.54 km3 [19]. This represents a considerable fraction (in these cases 1525%) of the total land runoffs discharging annually into the Mediterranean through coastal lakes and other land efuents connected to the sea [18]. El-Arabawy [7] recently developed a water balance strategic model for the year 2017, implementing the Egyptian government plan to recycle as much drainage water as possible. El-Arabawy [7] estimated that some 67 km3 of return ow into the Mediterranean and northern lakes is required to mitigate salt-water intrusion and preserve the Nile delta salt balance (Fig. 9).

2 Hydrology and Hydrochemical Parameters of the Nile Estuary

The basin area of the River Nile discharging to the Mediterranean sea is about 3 106 km2 . The ow rate is as high as 601 m3 s1 [18]. Nile water arrives at the Mediterranean not only through the Nile branches, Damietta in the west and Rosetta to the east, but also through coastal lakes outlets and various drainage efuents. These efuents continuously discharge water with a complex mixture of varied waste materials into the sea. The quantity and characteristics of these wastes mainly reect the diversity of human activities of the Egyptian population in the Nile delta region (10001200 km from Aswan). As mentioned above, the main consumers of the Nile water in Egypt are (in decreasing order of demand) agriculture, municipalities, and industries. The principal effects of agricultural activities on water quality include changes in salinity, and deterioration of water quality due to fertilizer and pesticide use. This leads to eutrophication of water bodies (coastal lakes) via an increase in nutrient loading. Thus agriculture may be considered a widespread source of pollution in the Nile estuary. Although they are dispersed, the runoff from these areas is collected in agricultural drains which become point sources of pollutants for the coastal lakes. The main pollutants coming from these sources are salt, nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus), and pesticides. Nile water salinity is measured at the AHD in order to monitor salinity increases before the water discharges into the Mediterranean. The average salt concentration in waters ahead of the dam is in the order of 150 mg L1 . This concentration increases to 250 mg L1 near Cairo, and further to 20003000 mg L1 at the northern lakes and estuary mouth at the point of discharge into the Mediterranean [17]. The deterioration of Nile water quality is most pronounced in the Rosetta and Damietta branches due to the disposal of municipal and industrial efuents, in combination with agricultural drainage and decreasing ow as water arrives at the Nile estuary.

The Nile Estuary


The quality of the Nile river waters, from Aswan to the Mediterranean sea (01200 km), is shown in Table 1. In addition to nutrient-enriched waters, other pollutants such as trace metals and hydrocarbons of industrial origin are reaching the Nile estuarine environment. All of these pollutants have severely affected the Egyptian northern coastal ecosystem, especially seaward of the delta estuaries (Rosetta and Damietta). There are numerous reports of high concentrations of contaminants such as aluminium, iron, copper, zinc, cadmium, and lead, dissolved and in particulate forms, in waters contributing to the estuarine environment of the Nile. The particulate form is mostly associated with suspended matter (both organic and inorganic), which afterwards is deposited as sediments [2023]. Similar results are found for nutrient salts in both of the Nile branches and their estuaries. The latter studies show that concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus nutrients are present in high concentrations in the Nile branches upstream, reecting the

Table 1 River Nile water quality (probes taken July 1991 to April 1992 [16]) Concentration (mg/L) Eutrophication NH3 , ammonia NO3 , nitrate NO2 , nitrite P, total phosphorus PO4 , ortho-phosphorous Organic matter content Dissolved oxygen BOD COD Coliform(Thousands/100 mL) Total Faecal Distribution along river course (Aswan to Mediterranean Sea)

< 0.1 0.6 14 < 0.05 < 0.25 0.1 1.6 < 0.1 0.1 1 2 10 <4 <8 < 25 < 45 2.5 for 30 of 53 probes > 18 for 6 of 53 probes < 2 for 42 of 55 probes 2 6 for 13 of 55 probes

Even distribution Even distribution Even distribution 01000 km from Aswan 10001200 km from Aswan 01000 km from Aswan 10001200 km from Aswan Less than 8 from 1000 km onwards 01000 km from Aswan 10001200 km from Aswan 01000 km from Aswan 10001200 km from Aswan Even distribution Even distribution

BOD Biological oxygen demand, amount of oxygen consumed in 5 days under optimal conditions in biodegradation process, COD Chemical oxygen demand, amount of oxygen consumed by water sample


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release there of municipal and agricultural wastes [24, 25]. Nutrient concentration values then decrease gradually towards the estuary mouth and seaward. 2.1 Pollution Sources and its Influence on the Nile Estuary Contamination of Nile estuary water by hydrocarbons is a consequence of the expanding petroleum and petrochemical industries in Egypt. The Nile delta area is now considered as one of the major oil- and gas-producing elds in Egypt. The release of oil wastes into the Nile estuary is inevitable, and oil products are harmful pollutants adversely affecting the biota of the Nile estuary ecosystem. In their studies on the levels of chlorinated hydrocarbons in living organisms from the Egyptian Mediterranean coast and Nile estuary, Abd-Allah et al. [25] have analyzed the tissue of sh (Mugil cephalus) and a bivalve (Donax sp.) for residues of 22 organochlorine pollutants. The results obtained have indicated that 2,2-bis(p-chlorophenyl)1,1-dichlorethylene (p,p-DDE) is dominant in sh with concentrations of 24 ng g1 . 1-Chloro-2,2-bis(p-chlorophenyl)ethylene (DDMM) dominated in the bivalves, which yielded concentrations ranging from 915 ng g1 . Toxaphene was also detected in these fauna, with the maximum concentration of 9.7 ng g1 being found in bivalves. This compound may also be derived from pesticides washed into agricultural drains feeding the estuaries. Other investigations of hydrocarbon and oil contamination of the Nile delta coast environments and lakes have indicated highly toxic compounds in water, sediments, and living organisms [2631]. The variable levels of pollutant concentrations in the Nile estuary environment are related to the river discharging capacity, the distribution of landsourced efuents along the Nile delta region, and temporal variations in these factors. The discharging capacities of the Nile branches reach peak values during the winter season [12, 32]. The Rosetta estuary is the main discharging branch as the Damietta branch was dammed 20 km inland of the river mouth by an articial dam (Farskur Dam), since the erection of AHD. The ow from the Damietta branch is limited to drainage coming from municipal, agriculture, and industrial polluted water emanating from the nal 20 km of channel before the Mediterranean coast. This is one of the two main reasons for the Damietta estuarine environment being more polluted than the Rosetta. The other reason is related to the Mediterranean circulation in general, and more specically to Egyptian coastal hydrology. The eastward owing Mediterranean currents along the Egyptian coast carry pollutants from the western efuents (Rosetta branch and coastal lakes) to the eastern side of the delta, to mix with the concentrated pollutants from the low-discharging Damietta branch. In addition, the largest and the most polluted coastal lake discharges its water into the sea adjacent to the Damietta estuary.

The Nile Estuary


2.2 Nile Delta Lakes as Part of the Nile Estuary Also referred to as delta coastal lagoons, the delta lakes originally developed during the intense ooding period of the 19th century. The periodic advance and retreat of the shoreline has resulted in some of these lakes becoming directly connected to the Mediterranean Sea via narrow outlets (Fig. 10). The Nile delta lakes occupy a signicant area (> 1100 km2 ) of the Egyptian Mediterranean coastal zone. From west to east, the lakes are Lake Mariut, Lake Edku, Lake Burallus, and Lake Manzalah. The largest in surface area is Lake Manzalah, while the smallest is Lake Mariut. All four lakes are shallow with an average depth of 1.10 m. Their salinity is known to vary from fresh to brackish at the southern lake shores, and they are saline to hypersaline in the northern shoreline areas bordering the wet lands [18]. Although the Nile is the main inux into the lake environment, the lakes also serve as collection basins for agricultural, sewage, and industrial drainage water. Consequently, severe degradation in lake water quality and ecosystem have occurred since the erection of the AHD. The surface area of the lakes has shrunk in response to silting caused by large quantities of suspended matter carried into the lakes along with untreated to partially treated sewage and agriculture drainage water. The lake basins have also been affected by urbanization, agriculture, and highway construction. In fact, the modern northern delta lakes cover < 50% of the area they occupied 35 years ago. The individual geographic position and hydrographic features of each lake are shown in Table 2. The Nile delta lakes are important in that they have inherited the role of several pre-existing Nile tributaries at this location that supplied freshwater and sediments to the Mediterranean. Despite the degradation of their water quality, the lakes still supply the Egyptian estuarine coastal area with many nutrients. The Nile delta lakes are also regarded as optimal shery grounds, where, until the end of 1985, sh production amounted to 50% of the annual

Fig. 10 Nile delta coastal lakes (lagoons) and their connections with the Mediterranean Sea

164 Table 2 Main geographic and hydrographic features of the Nile delta lakes Parameter Long.(E) Lat.(N) Surface area (km2 ) Depth range (cm) Av. Water salinity (.) Annual discharging volume (109 m3 ) Discharging rate (m3 s1 ) Water residence time (days) Trophic status Water sources Mariut 29.28(E) 31.20(N) 62.00 50150 6.3 2.37 74.0 10 Hypertrophic A, I, S, G Edku 30.20(E) 31.33(N) 109.00 40220 3.8 2.06 60.0 21 Eutrophic A, S Burullus 31.00(E) 31.62(N) 350.00 50200 2.5 3.2 80.0 42 Mesotrophic A

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Manzalah 31.48(E) 31.46(N) 650.00 50140 5.9 6.7 165.0 32 Hypertrophic A, I, S

A agriculture, I industrial, S sewage, G groundwater. Modied after Hamza [18]

Egyptian sh yield. As a result of declining water quality and shrinking lake surface area the sh yields have decreased markedly [18].

3 Impact of Aswan High Dam Construction on the Nile Estuary

3.1 Coastal and Fisheries Reduction Since the construction in 1964 of the AHD, the continuing debate on the relative merits and disadvantages of this project have progressed from hydropolitical concerns to the socio-economic strategies amongst the Nile basin countries and other interested neighbors. A principal purpose for the damming of the river Nile by the Egyptian Government was to address the need to control ooding and to manage irrigation systems for national agricultural developments. The scheme has provided the additional benets of hydroelectricity generation and the creation of a strategic freshwater reservoir to moderate water supply during low ood periods. Dam construction may also have unintended negative impacts on the surrounded environment, and these must be taken into account in any assessment of the value of the project. A full discussion of this issue is beyond the scope of this chapter. However, in the light of case studies of environmental impacts of dam construction in other locations from the USA to Africa it is clear that uvial, sedimentary, estuarine, and ecological processes are complexly interlinked and it is no simple matter

The Nile Estuary


to predict the results of interfering with them. Planned changes to one part of the system leads to unexpected and often indeterminate effects on another. Scientic research indicates that the reduction in freshwater discharge and fertile suspended matter are the main factors determining the impact of the AHD on the Nile estuary. These impacts include the erosion of the Nile delta coastal area and disturbance to the ecological equilibrium of the Levantine basin [3, 3236]. The maximum extent of the Nile delta shoreline was a result of sediment build-up during the period of high oods in the 19th century. At that time, the shoreline advanced seawards due to the domination of sediment supply to beaches over the erosive activities of waves and currents. This period of advance was halted and the inshore line retreated in the year 1900, due to climatic changes in eastern Africa and extensive use of Nile sediments and water in perennial irrigation. Erosion of the delta shoreline accelerated after 1964 due to the construction of the AHD and the consequent reduction in sediment supply to the delta coast to only 5% of earlier average rates (Fig. 11). According to Inman and Scott [37] the total sediment load (sand + silt + clay) carried by the Egyptian Nile waters, prior to the AHD construction, ranged between 160 and 178 106 t year1 . The suspended fraction (silt + clay) accounted for 112 106 t year1 , much of which was deposited on agricultural elds. The remaining sand load of 5066 106 t year1 , represents

Fig. 11 Discharge of Nile water and suspended sediments to the Mediterranean before and after construction of the AHD (modied from Fanos et al. [3])


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a sediment volume supply rate of 3040 106 m3 year1 . This sediment volume found its way to the sea and compensated wholly or partially for the sediment losses resulting from coastal erosion. The inevitability of erosion of the Nile delta becomes obvious when we compare the original sediment supply rate of 3040 106 m3 year1 with the delta coast erosion rate of 32 106 m3 year1 averaged for the period 1919/1922 to 1984 [3]. Stanley [38] observed that although sediment is being transported as far as Cairo, virtually no sediment is being supplied to replenish the coastline via the channels owing into the Mediterranean. This situation results from the diversion of Nile water into more than 10 000 km of irrigation and drainage canals, north of Cairo. The water in these canals is either still or very slow moving. Consequently the suspended sediment either settles on the canal oor whence farmers recover it for addition to their elds, or is pumped along with the canal water into the four large freshwater coastal lakes near the outer edge of the delta (Fig. 10). The loss of sediment supply to replenish the Nile delta coast is a signicant problem related to the construction of the AHD. Nevertheless, the AHD has provided undeniable benets in the tremendous boon to Egyptian agriculture and to industry via the pollution-free provision of cheap hydroelectric power. It has also protected Egypt from ooding, and water from a year of plenty can be saved for a drought year. In a detailed study of the subsidence of the northeastern Nile delta, Stanley [34] showed that delta areal loss is also due to continued land surface subsidence at rates of up to 4050 cm per century. He has also warned that eustatic sea level rise, conservatively estimated at 48 cm during the next 40 years, and at least 50 cm by the year 2100, may compound the effects of delta subsidence and coastal erosion to submerge the delta region as far inland as 30 km from the present day coast. In this scenario, the Port Said Northern Suez CanalLake Manzalah region, with a population of one million, would become particularly susceptible to ooding because it is located in one of the more rapidly subsiding parts of the delta [34]. The disturbance of the ecological equilibrium in the Levantine basin, due to the AHD construction, has also been demonstrated in scientic investigations. Before the AHD was built 50% of the Nile ow emptied into the Mediterranean. During an average pre-AHD ood the total discharge of nutrient salts was estimated to be approximately 5500 t of phosphate and 280 103 t of silicate. The nutrient-rich oodwater, or Nile stream, was approximately 15 km wide, had sharply dened boundaries, extended along the Egyptian coast, and was sometimes detected off the coast of southern Turkey [39]. The fertility of the southeastern Mediterranean has decreased markedly since the AHD construction. In fact the estimated postAHD phosphate quantity discharged into the Mediterranean derived from the entire land runoff (not only through the Nile estuaries) amounts to 84.9 t year1 [11]. A commensurate decrease in the average sh catch from nearly 35 103 t in 1962 and 1963 to less than one fourth of this in 1969,

The Nile Estuary


Fig. 12 Annual average sh yield and sardine catch from the Egyptian Mediterranean coast before and after construction of the AHD (after El-Sayed and Van Dijken [39])

reported by Egyptian Mediterranean marine sheries, parallels the decrease in the discharged freshwater and fertile sediments. Hardest hit was sardine shing, primarily Sardinella aurita, which is heavily reliant on increased phytoplankton growth during the ood season. Whereas a total of 18 103 t of sardines were caught in 1962, a mere 460 and 600 t of sardine were landed in 1968 and 1969, respectively [32, 39, 40]. In recent years there has been a noticeable increase in the sardine catch along the Egyptian coast (8590 t in 1992) with most of the landings coinciding with the period of maximum discharge from coastal lakes during winter. Since the 1980s the total sh catch (pelagic and bottom) for the Egyptian coast has been restored to pre-AHD levels (Fig. 12). El-Sayed and Van Dijken [39] question whether this is due to intensied shing efforts or recovery of the sh stocks. Recent scientic investigations leave little doubt about the changes which have occurred in the pelagic ecosystem. However, the recovery of total sh landings of late (Fig. 12), particularly sardines, is puzzling and in stark contrast with the low levels of primary productivity. Sophisticated numerical simulations of both hydrodynamic and ecosystem functions along the Egyptian coast have already lled gaps in our knowledge regarding certain phenomena, such as the winter algal blooms. These may help to resolve the above conicting results and expectations, as described in the next section. 3.2 Simulation of the Nile Delta Coastal Ecosystem There has been much interest in recent years in the use of numerical models to simulate the ecosystem of the southeastern Mediterranean. This activ-


W. Hamza

ity was realized in the Land-3 Project, nanced by the World-Laboratory Agency in 1995, and later annexed by the MFSPP project (Mediterranean Forecasting System Pilot Project), nanced by the EU commission during the period 19982001. The use of the FinEst (FinnishEstonian) ecosystem numerical model within the Land-3 project succeeded in simulating the ecosystem parameters of the Egyptian coast between longitudes 29 5 E and 33 45 E. In addition, the model was able to simulate the inuence of landrunoff on the productivity of the Nile delta coastal ecosystem. In the latter simulation, climatic conditions for the Egyptian coast were used as an external forcing factor that inuenced coastal hydrodynamics. After setting up the model, it was used to simulate 60 Julian days (January and February) representing winter conditions. Using this model, Hamza et al. [41] showed that in the winter season (DecemberFebruary) meteorological conditions play an important role in keeping high nutrient concentrations in the Nile delta area for long periods, in addition to the role played by the nutrient load (40% of annual discharge, coming mainly from the Rosetta Nile Branch and the delta drainages). The conditions of this season promote phytoplankton growth; this may explain the existence of winter algal blooms that have affected the Egyptian coastal area since the AHD construction [40]. The model simulation results have shown that high concentrations of both nutrient salts (e.g. phosphorus) and algal biomass (chlorophyll a) are expected to be found along the Nile delta coastal area during the winter season (Fig. 13a,b). The simulation predicted relatively warm air temperatures with variations of 26 C between the day and the night, based on available meteorological data. Interestingly, during the same winter period the winds blow both from the NE and NW quadrants, creating a central zone of calm on the coast off the Nile delta zone. The winds are mainly onshore (Fig. 14). Based on these results Hamza et al. [41] explained the winter algal bloom along the Nile delta coast as follows: 1. The Rosetta Nile branch ow and delta drainages constitute the main winter source of nutrients supplied to the coastal area off the Nile delta. 2. Meteorological conditions during winter consistently favor the development of phytoplankton blooms due to the quasi-stable conditions in the delta offshore area. 3. East-owing counter currents characterize the southern part of the Mediterranean. The algal bloom may be dispersed by these eastward owing currents. 4. The nutrient-enriched surface seawater layer (due to winter convections and eastern drainages), could maintain algal species-specic growth rates during their transportation, forming patches with different phytoplankton size-classes.

The Nile Estuary


Fig. 13 Simulation of OctoberDecember distribution of a surface layer PO4 P (mg m3 ) and b average 10 m layer chlorophyll a (g m2 )

Fig. 14 Simulation of wind eld average during the 60 Julian days along the Egyptian Mediterranean coastal waters

5. Due to the low grazing impact of both zooplankton and sh during the winter season, algal blooms may conserve their bulk for longer periods compared to the regular autumn blooms known in this area [32, 40]. Another application of the ecosystem model for the Nile delta coastal area involves the coupling between the hydrodynamic model (HYDRA), and the ecosystem FinEst model. This dual model gives real simulations and offers


W. Hamza

the possibility of using the model as an operational forecasting tool [42]. The results obtained using the dual model to simulate the Nile delta coastal area during winter show the extent to which the freshwater discharging from the Rosetta estuary mouth, and other shoreline drainages, may inuence water salinity variations with depth in that area (Fig. 15). Moreover, for a randomly selected time period during winter, the model calculations have demonstrated the fertility of the Nile delta coastal ecosystem. This was the result obtained for the available physical, chemical, and biological parameters, as shown in Fig. 16. The concluding remarks of Hamza et al. [42] regarding the model run results are that in the Nile delta coastal area, especially close to the shore, phytoplankton communities are dominated by small size-classes of phytoplankton (< 20 m), such as phytoagellates and picophytoplankton. The reason for this may be that their reaction rates are much faster than those of net phytoplankton, so the former are able to utilize nutrients more efciently. Alternatively, the seawater turbidity due to the continued land-source discharge and the consequent low PAR (Photosynthetic Available Radiation) levels, could also explain the small size class dominance. Based on the simulations, it was also concluded that the decision of the Egyptian government to reduce the discharge of Nile water through the Nile

Fig. 15 Simulation of vertical distribution of salinity in three selected grids surrounding the Rosetta Promontory (after Hamza et al. [42])

The Nile Estuary


Fig. 16 Simulation of temperature, salinity, nutrients and phytoagellate distribution along the Egyptian Mediterranean coastal area, showing the inuence of the Nile water on the ecosystem parameters during winter (after Hamza et al. [42])

estuary may not signicantly affect the nutrient concentration in this area. This is especially so if large volumes of primary treated sewage and agriculture drainage water are still being discharged. However, a slight increase in the average water salinity may occur, with the possible effect of modifying the community structure of the living biota. This may have a striking effect on sheries in the area, particularly in the Levantine basin. The above concluding points could explain the observed restoration of the ecosystem equilibrium after more than 30 years of disturbances associated with the AHD. It is well known that in restored unbalanced aquatic environments, chemical equilibrium may be reached after more than 20 years, while longer periods are necessary to reach biological equilibrium [41]. That may be the case for the estuarine environment of the Nile, the Nile delta coastal area, and by extension the southeastern Mediterranean environment. From the preceding discussions it is obvious that the estuary of the Nile is not a simple environment, but one where both human interference and natural events play negative and positive roles in the nal outcome. The future imperative is to balance human needs with nature conservation a policy commonly referred to as sustainable development which requires concerted effort to build a well-planned environmental strategy to conserve and manage the national (Egyptian) resources. To be sustainable that strategy requires the availability of necessary budgets, the collaboration of Nile basin countries,


W. Hamza

and nally, the development of infrastructures and coastal protection works that will preserve the Nile estuary environment.

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The Nile Estuary 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37.


38. 39. 40. 41.


Abd-Allah AMA (1999) JAOAC 82:391 Dowidar NM (1984) Deep-Sea Res 31:983 Caputo R (1985) National Geographic 17:577 Stanley DJ (1988) Science 240:497 Frihy OE (1988) J Coast Res 4:597 Blodget HW, Taylor PT, Roark JH (1991) Mar Geol 99:67 Inman DL, Scott AJ (1984) The Nile littoral cell and mans impact on the coastal zone of the southeastern Mediterranean. SIO Reference Series 4831, University of California Stanley DJ (1996) Mar Geol 129:189 El-Sayed SZ, Van Dijken GL (1995) Ocean Dept Texas A & M Univ Quarterdeck 3.1 Dowidar NM (1988) Productivity of the south-eastern Mediterranean. In: El-Sabh MI, Murtty TS (eds) Natural and man-made hazards. p 477 Hamza W, Ennet P, Tamsalu R (1998) The ecosystem calculation for the Egyptian part of the Mediterranean. In: Tamsalu R (ed) The coupled 3D hydrodynamic and ecosystem model FinEst. MERI 35:143 Hamza W, Ennet P, Tamsalu R, Zalesny V (2003) J Aquat Ecol 37(3):307